Think your pooch is in need of a little divine intervention? Since 1930, Olvera Street has hosted the Blessing of the Animals on the Saturday before Easter. Following a procession led by a flower-laden cow, Cardinal Roger Mahony blessed all animals in attendance. There was an exciting charro equestrian show, pony rides for children, and a petting zoo with llamas, sheep, cows, and more.
In case you missed it last weekend, you can read all about this annual tradition—with roots dating back to the fourth century—in Leo Politi’s Caldecott Honor-winning children’s book, Juanita, recently reissued by Getty Publications. Originally published in 1948, the story follows young Juanita and her family through birthday and Easter celebrations on Olvera Street, where her family runs a puesto, or small shop. She receives a dove for her birthday and takes her new pet to the blessing ceremony, along with the other children in the neighborhood, who bring birds, lambs, turtles, cats, rabbits, cows, and even a monkey.
Leo Politi (1908–1996) wrote and illustrated dozens of children’s books, many of which are set in the Latino and other ethnic communities of Southern California. In October 2009, Getty Publications reissued four of his most popular titles, including the Caldecott Medal-winning Song of the Swallows (1948), Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street (1946), and Juanita (1948), each of which received a Caldecott Honor; and Emmet (1971).
At a time when most children’s picture books were set in generic towns or cities, Politi’s books were set in real neighborhoods, and usually featured a specific ethnic community. Before multiculturalism was the buzzword that it is now, Politi portrayed characters with different backgrounds and sprinkled foreign-language words and phrases throughout his texts.
The next time you’re on Olvera Street—for the Blessing of Animals or just a taco—you can see Politi’s Juanita on a larger scale. His mural The Blessing of the Animals features human and animal characters from the book, including birds, lambs, turtles, cats, rabbits—and, of course, Juanita with her pet dove.